As no one needs to tell you, bicycle reflectors -- no matter how shiny -- are not bling for your wheels. The accessory plays such an important safety role that at least some states, if not all, make it a law for bicycles to have reflectors. Check with your state or city government on whether they regulate reflectors’ use. If they don't, adopt another locality’s guidelines to be safe on the road.
When you’re on your bike, it's your responsibility to make yourself visible to cars behind you through the use of reflectors and lights. A red reflector mounted to the back of your bike should be visible from a minimum of 100 feet away and, ideally, from as far away as 600 feet, according to Illinois guidelines. Install a rear reflector that measures a minimum of 3 inches across.
You reduce your risk of being in a traffic accident by equipping your pedals with yellow or white reflectors. They must be visible to car drivers from 200 feet away, whether they're approaching from the opposite or the same direction as you're headed.
While California state law doesn’t specify how far the visibility should be, consider that it requires white or yellow side reflectors mounted on each side of the front wheels and white or red reflectors installed on the right and left of the rear wheel.
Bicycle reflectors keep you safe during a night ride by reflecting the cars’ upper beam of their headlamps. To do so, the equipment needs to be positioned properly. Rear reflectors, for example, should point straight back. Inspect and tighten all installations from time to time, as screws get loose, allowing the reflectors to change position.
If your state mandates you to equip your bicycle with reflectors, don’t break the law. But also remember you have alternatives to ride safely in an unexpected situation or to increase your visibility. Reflective patches on your clothing and wristbands made of the same material increase the chances drivers see you. Likewise, helmet and bicycle lamps, as well as reflective tires, make it hard for others to miss you on the road.
Emma Watkins writes on finance, fitness and gardening. Her articles and essays have appeared in "Writer's Digest," "The Writer," "From House to Home," "Big Apple Parent" and other online and print venues. Watkins holds a Master of Arts in psychology.